Home / Blog / Article


July 5 2018

Bill for Aspirin and Bottle of Baby Formula at San Francisco Hospital: $18,836

by Charlotte Hays

On a trip to San Francisco,  Jang Yeo-im’s eight-month-old son Park Jeong-whan tumbled from the bed in their hotel and hit his head. Just to be sure, the parents took their baby to Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital. Doctors determined that the baby was fine, gave him a bottle of infant formula,  and sent the family on their way.

The bill for these services: $18,836.

The largest portion of the bill $15,666, which was labeled “trauma activation,” also sometimes known as “a trauma response fee.”

Trauma probably accurately describes what a family's reaction is when  it gets a hospital bill like this for services lasting three hours and twenty-two minutes.

Not surprisingly, Jang Yeo-im was stunned by the bill (as reported by Vox).

“It’s a huge amount of money for my family,” said Jang, whose family had travel insurance that would cover only $5,000. “If my baby got special treatment, okay. That would be okay. But he didn’t. So why should I have to pay the bill? They did nothing for my son.”

Trauma fees appear to be very lucrative:

American hospital bills today are littered with multiplying fees, many of which don’t even exist in other countries: fees for blood draws, fees for checking the blood oxygen level with a skin probe, fees for putting on a cast, minute-by-minute fees for lying in the recovery room.

A trauma fee is the price a trauma center charges when it activates and assembles a team of medical professionals that can meet a patient with potentially serious injuries in the ER. It is billed on top of the hospital’s emergency room physician charge and procedures, equipment, and facility fees.

Emergency room bills collected by Vox and Kaiser Health News show that trauma fees are expensive — typically thousands of dollars — and vary widely from one hospital to another.

Vox has done an investigation into emergency room fees, collecting 1,400 ER bills in the process.

Vox quoted experts saying how trauma fees are calculated:

Experts who’ve studied trauma fees say that there’s little rationale behind how some hospitals calculate the charge and when the fee is billed. But, of course, those decisions have tremendous financial implications.

One patient suffered a shallow cut from a minor motorcycle accident. He was alert when he arrived at the hospital and his treatment consisted of ibuprofen, two staples, and a saline injection. Bill: $26, 998.

Hospitals may be calling in trauma teams when they are not needed. Clearly, some hospitals also are gaming the system.

Incomprehensible bills you need both an accounting and medical degree to decipher are also at fault. They allow hospitals to tack on costs that a more transparent system would not.

One more thought: When ObamaCare came the object was to make medical care affordable and accessible to all citizens.  I can imagine people staying away from the hospital because of these high fees.

In planning for a better health care system, this is an area we need to examine.

Independent Women's Forum is an educational 501(c)(3) dedicated to developing and advancing policies that aren’t just well intended, but actually enhance people’s freedom, choices, and opportunities. IWF is the sister organization of the Independent Women’s Voice.​
Follow us